Locked down, playing chess: a poem by Fernando Arrabal

by Fernando Arrabal
1/29/2021 – Spanish playwright, screenwriter, film director, novelist, and poet Fernando Abarral is locked down in Paris. Noting that he plays ten chess games online per night, he sent us a poem filled with tragic yet inspiring remembrances. Arrabal writes, “Except for the first few days, the rest was bearable”.

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Remembrances of a chess player

by Fernando Arrabal, from Paris

…many thanks!  

they have been imposed on me, I guess like to everyone else,

a number of confinements

the first due to typhoid fever 

then three due to pleurisy (was it already tuberculosis?)

one in the Bouffémont sanatorium with the usual morning and afternoon sleeping sessions 

yet another in the prison of Carabanchel (Madrid) and its surroundings 

three for surgeries at the Cochin Hospital in Paris 

and finally the cerebrovascular accident seven years ago at the Lariboisière Hospital in Paris

my adored son (a doctor in molecular biology) told me that “I would no longer be able to speak” (which, fortunately, was not true).

[the one thing I asked him, “Please, I would like to continue the chess tournament”];    

Except for the first few days, the rest was bearable

I wrote during these periods  

mainly plays

in the sanatorium, Fando y Lis and El cementerio de coches,

in Carabanchel, El jardín de las delicias

where I also played several games of blindfold chess while another prisoner kept score

but unfortunately, and understandably, the scoresheets were taken away from me on my release fearing that they were secret messages;    

Is this confinement less wretched and more radiant, or at least sunnier, than the previous ones?     

Is it concurrent and ‘externalizing’ because of the nature of this evil?  

And above all because of my adored daughter (as esteemed and special as ever) who comes to see me almost every day 

bringing what I may need (which by the way is not much);

I write with the same rhythm as always

I take selfies almost daily

I dress up, I wear a boutonnière 

I wear a bow tie, a different set of sunglasses (on top of the usual ones) every day;  

The one thing that is exceptional: 

I regret not being able to see my son, his wife and my twin grandchildren (they live at 600-metre distance) 

I can’t join my friends at parties

I keep posting on Twitter, Instagram and the presse internationale;

Every night I play ten 10-minute chess games, almost always against Indians, Ukrainians or Americans; 

I have written two plays, Pétalos de confinamiento and Julieta (I had promised it to J. Gréco),

which, like the rest of my work, I have the honour and undeserved pleasure 

of knowing that they will be performed, one day or the other, from Tasmania to Anchorage; 

in Paris, at the Théâtre 13, in front of ten people,  

they will perform El cementerio de coches;


Tanya Pixoto wrote me on Lady Day, the Feast of the Annunciation,

…(I’m almost 88 years old) and I’ve seen for the first time in my life the signature and the precious and precise handwriting of my previously unknown grandmother Concepción Ruiz;

I discovered it in March thanks to Marina Llobera de Pollença;

How artfully my Grandmother-Courageous addresses her sons’ jailer and executioner! 

Would it have been a crime to send him a simple letter? 

My Grandmother (& Mother)-Courageous, how did she manage to get from Córdoba to Palma de Mallorca in the middle of the un-civil war?

Was she finally able to kiss her son on death row two months before his execution at the Fort of Illetres in Palma de Mallorca? 

How could she travel from Córdoba to Ceuta to kiss her son Fernando, my father, during the year he spent on death row?

How could she still make the Córdoba-Barcelona trip to kiss her son Ángel during the year he spent on death row?; 

She had to bite the bullet and tell the victors — and executioners of her three sons — that she had survived the pain of having lost her two other sons at the hands of the red fury

she had to bite the bullet and call her son’s slaughterer Your Excellency… and to do it with the utmost respect and consideration 

she had to bite the bullet and say that due to the vagaries of life her son had the misfortune of having been deprived of his freedom 

she had to bite the bullet and mention the kind heart of her son’s tormentor and ask God to preserve his life for many years to come for the good of our beloved Spain

she had to bite the bullet and refer to the year that saw all the sorrows of a mother stacked up together as a triumphant year.

Fernando Arrabal

A letter from 1937

Fernando Arrabal, Concepción Ruiz

Concepción Ruiz, Fernando Arrabal’s grandmother

Translation from Spanish: Carlos Colodro


Fernando Arrabal Terán (born August 11, 1932) is a Spanish playwright, screenwriter, film director, novelist, and poet. He was born in Ceuta and settled in France in 1955. Arrabal has directed seven full-length feature films and has published over 100 plays; 14 novels; 800 poetry collections, chapbooks, and artists' books; several essays; and his notorious “Letter to General Franco” during the dictator's lifetime.


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